October 23, 2018

Government Action on Arsenical Pesticides Delayed

Consumers Union, an arm of Consumer Reports, has called on the EPA to ban arsenic-containing pesticides. A National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) meeting being held today “will be the start of a process that could delay government action for at least three years on the risks of arsenic,” according to the press release. Exposure to inorganic arsenic is linked to cancer. The National Toxicology Program has classified inorganic arsenic compounds as “known to be a human carcinogen.”

The government is reviewing the cancer and non-cancer risks from inorganic arsenic after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was directed by Congress to stop  work on its prior cancer risk assessment after several years of research. Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumers Union, said, “the government needs to move forward now to stop the introduction of this highly toxic chemical into the environment. We are concerned that the EPA has been directed by Congress to halt all new regulatory steps to protect public health while this new risk assessment is under way.” Members of Congress were apparently concerned that the EPA’s risk assessment of inorganic arsenic was “low quality”.

A memo, dated October 1, 2012 that was posted on the chemical industry’s Organic Arsenical Products Task Force website states companies can continue to sell an arsenical pesticide, MSMA, for “3-4 years until the scientific review is completed.” The memo is addressed to “Friends of MSMA.” MSMA is used on golf courses, sod farms, and highway rights of way. The memo also states that they “fully expect the NAS review to result in a less stringent risk value for human exposure to inorganic arsenic.”

Consumers Union states that “it is highly concerning that the pesticide manufacturers believe they already know the outcome of this new scientific review. The scientific questions are important, but we already know enough about the cancer risks, and other toxic properties of arsenic for regulators to take action now. EPA should end all remaining uses of the arsenic-containing pesticide MSMA. We need the government to issue standards for arsenic in rice and apple juice and to end all uses of arsenic in drugs given to food animals.”

According to the press release, the timeline of arsenical pesticides regulation is curious: in September 2006, the EPA concluded that all arsenical pesticides are ineligible for re-registration. By September 2009, all uses for three of four organic arsenical pesticides, except for MSMA, are phased out. In July 2010, the EPA completed its draft risk assessment of cancer risks, finding that the cancer potency of inorganic arsenic was “much higher than previously thought”. In Fall 2011, questions were raised from consumer groups and data released by the FDA about the levels of arsenic in apple juice.

But in December 2011, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 from Congress directed the EPA to conduct another study on cancer and non-cancer hazards of exposure to inorganic arsenic. Congress specifically said that “there is no further action to be taken to post EPA’s 2010 draft cancer assessment of inorganic arsenic as final.” MSMA was supposed to be phased out in December 012, but the effort to stop its use was halted. This month, the first meeting is being held to develop a new risk assessment on inorganic arsenic, which will take at least three years, delaying any action on MSMA.

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